ROUND 4: NETHERLANDS VS. SWEDEN

Posted in 2014 WORLD MAGIC CUP on December 5, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

The World Championship that began a few days ago is known for being filled with Pro Tour Hall of Fame members and the players well on their way to potential induction ceremonies. It's an event that's successful at bringing together the best in the world.

Unsurprisingly, bringing the best in each country together yields some similar results.

This year's team from Sweden is headlined by Pro Tour Gatecrash finalist Joel Larsson and Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Olle Råde. The Netherlands have Hall of Famer Frank Karsten. While it's a bit unfair to group the remaining players under "the others" it's more the fact that most teams don't have Pro Tour finalists or Pro Tour Hall of Fame members that's worth noting.

Even when they're outnumbers, some of the game's greats can't avoid bumping into each other.

The Decks

The Netherlands team featured a common configuration of Unified Standard decks:

How did the team get here? "Because we like Mardu a lot, and Frank likes his Abzan decks," Hendricks said.

Karsten's answer was a bit more specific and expected. "I made a list of twelve reasonable Standard decks and made an algorithm to find the best configurations," he explained. While his teammates joined me in some good-hearted laughter, the analytic weightlifting Karsten puts into his focus on Magic is daunting, and powerful. "We focused on the configurations with Mardu. It turned out that pairing it with Abzan and Temur was the best combination."

Both the Netherlands and Sweden brought powerhouse teams to this event, which each sporting a Hall of Famer.

Of course, data points can be a bit misleading.

"We have been testing the Mardu deck the entire week, and when we looked it over to write down the list and we're like 'Hey, there are five Lightning Strikes in this deck!'" Hendricks said. "Of course we fixed that."

Sweden, too, had arrived and their configuration of decks was eerily similar:

After the match was over, team Netherlands shared more of their thoughts on Standard.

"We also considered White-Blue instead of Temur and Whip of Erebos decks, like a Whip version of the midrange I'm playing," Karsten explained. "I like the way my deck plays and I didn't want to get into draws with it."

What's it like to match Abzan against Mardu, as had happened in this round?

"It's pretty close fifty-fifty," Karsten aid, referring to the matchup between the decks.

"In my experience, Mardu is favored in Game 1 but after boarding Abzan is probably favored," Hendriks added.

So how did that play out here?

The Games

In Seat C, Hendricks missed playing an early land in the first game but led out with Goblin Rabblemaster on turn four. Larsson's Seige Rhino met a Crackling Doom but the Swede didn't let the Rabblemaster live. The game turned as both players moved in on their Planeswalkers, Larsson with Liliana Vess and Hendricks with Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Elspeth, Sun's Champion gave Larsson a supply chain of creatures as well.

Shortly following, Hendrick's Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker appeared to actually become a creature. All of the offense from Hendricks had flying. However, Larsson shifted the battlefield by unleashing the ultimate ability of the Liliana Vess he protected: Goblin Rabblemaster, Seeker of the Way, and Butcher of the Horde were ripped from Hendrick's graveyard to Larsson's control.

Thomas Hendricks battles alongside Hall of Famer Frank Karsten as part of Team Netherlands today.

Meanwhile, Karsten-Nobari were in a flipped match. Karsten had pulled ahead with Rhino and Wingmate Roc as Nobari remained on three lands for several turns. However, double Goblin Rabblemaster ran wild, filling his side of the battlefield with Goblins. In the end, Kartsen's flying Wingmate Rocs kept his life afloat long enough to outrace the army on the ground.

That was unlike how the Larsson-Hendricks game concluded, where Larsson's Liliana ultimate was ultimately enough to overcome the opposing air force.

In the match between those matches, Råde was working hard to close out Been from just 4 life. While his Hero of Iroas was a 9/9, Ashwing Phoenix bestowed by Boon Satyr sitting next to a Polukranos, World Eater meant he had to get through quickly. With just lands in hand, the Phoenix backed by a Lighting Strike put the Netherlands up two games to one across the matches.

Råde looked to Larsson for feedback on keeping his hand for the second game, but Hendricks shared his own thoughts across the table. "Every hand looks bad," he said. "They're 2/2s for two." While Larsson also found the tease about playing an aggressive deck funny, the answer he ultimately gave to Råde led to a mulligan.

Of second games it was Karsten's game developed the fastest, with two copies of Fleecemane Lion and a Siege Rhino forcing Butcher of the Horde to sit and wait on Nobari's side. While Nobari was able to block and trade long enough to get his Sorin, Solemn Vistor online, Karsten had what he needed to deal with it immediately anyway.

Moving slower was the Råde-Been match. Råde presented Brimaz, King of Oreskos with a Stratus Walk but Ashwing Phoenix traded with it for Been. While Råde could replace the King, Been moved on to Polukranos, World Eater against the two cards left in the hand across from him.

Moving to the end of the line, the Larsson-Hendricks game had made it to the Hornet Queen stage for the Pro Tour finalist, clearing away Butcher of the Horde in blocking. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker provided a better way to keep up attacking, but Larsson used Utter End to release his Queen from being Chained to the Rocks. Starting last, they finished first with victory for Larsson.

Team captain Joel Larsson is just one of many solid players in Sweden's line-up today.

Immediately after Larsson won, Karsten returned the favor for team Netherlands on the back of Wingmate Roc again. Both teams' Abzan decks overcame their Mardu counterparts in two games each.

Both teams converged for the Råde-Been match, where the Hall of Fame player was now casting a Stratus Walk on his opponent's creature: Stormbreath Dragon. It was a clever way to draw a card without risking removal getting in the mix. Making Polukranos monstrous ate a flying Heros of Iroas, leaving just the second King of Oreskos with Ordeal of Thassa for Råde. Stormbreath Dragon and an 8/8 Polukranos crashed in to drop Råde to 7 life, tying the players up.

Hall of Famer Olle Råde, playing in the final game of the final match between the two teams.

Råde attacked and Been took it to fall to 1.

"We need to play," Larsson said is a sing-song voice, noting about 15 minutes left in the round.

"How many options can we have?" Råde asked. Been just smiled and moved to attackers. Råde fell to 1 life as well. When Brimaz created one token more than Been could block, the match moved to the third game.

Early in their final game, Been cast Lighting Strike to kill a third turn Battlewise Hoplite. Ajani's Presence protected it and forced a second Strike from Been. Stormbreath Dragon and Heir of the Wild hammed at Råde immediately after that, putting him down to 9 life as Been still sat at an untouched 20. Boon Satyr made the next attack take Sweden's hope to just 1 life.

The lonesome Battlewise Hoplite let Råde scry through two cards with Gods Willing and helped Ordeal of Thassa pop in one attack, but the answers Råde needed weren't on top of his library.

Team Sweden collectively extended their hands.

Netherlands 2 – Sweden 1